July 1, 2022
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Louise Bourgeois, Famous Sculptor, Unknown Painter

By on June 1, 2022 0

It’s one thing to know that Louise Bourgeois painted. A few are often found in surveys of his long career as a sculptor, which peaked in the 1980s and 1990s. she made more than 100 paintings. Almost half of them now heat up a large gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with raw emotion, clumsy paint handling and adamantine colors – most often bright to dark shades of blue and especially red. In fact, this show is an insightful meditation on the bubbling meaning of red, whose many associations include blood, passion, love, courage, joy, anger, violence.

Nearly half of the works in “Louise Bourgeois: Paintings” are on loan from the artist’s foundation; almost a third have not been exposed for decades, if ever. Together they illuminate some of the recurring themes explored in the sculptures, but also some of the very structures of these works, which began to appear as motifs in his paintings in the mid-1940s.

And yet the exhibition, curated by Met Associate Curator Clare Davies, also introduces us to what is in many ways a whole new artist and a new type of artist to contend with, one whose balance between formal sophistication and Emotional intensity was rare, especially since it was about early memories, motherhood, artistic creation and their conflict. These themes are evident in the four “Woman House” paintings of 1946-47, each of which combines a house with a woman’s body; they would be endemic to feminist art of the 1970s. But by the 1940s, Bourgeois’ subjects had little precedent in Western modern art. (An obvious exception is Paula Modersohn-Becker.)

From now on, Bourgeois’ two-dimensional creations will have to be taken into account in the history of modern painting. She was central to advanced art, though unlike many other women – Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan – she was not interested in mastering the Abstract Expressionist style (or scale). But the question remains: did Bourgeois’ saturated solid color areas have any effect on this style, or on its dedicated colorists like Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, who were approaching maturity at this time? Perhaps the reds and blues of Bourgeois could occupy a position similar to that of Janet Sobel, the Ukrainian artist from New Jersey who is credited with creating dripping paint abstractions before Pollock, who had seen his paintings.

Everything happened so fast. In the spring or summer of 1938, she set up a small art gallery in a section of her family’s textile gallery on Boulevard Saint-Germain. On September 12, she married an American she had met in her boutique in August. This is Robert Goldwater, a young art historian, teacher and critic who evolves in the upper echelons of the New York cultural sphere, where he is best known for his writings on the relationship between so-called primitive art and contemporary art.

At the end of October, Bourgeois finds herself in New York, tormented by guilt at having left her family so suddenly (father, older sister, younger brother), and also misses Paris where she had learned to be an artist, working in a figurative style. derived in part from Picasso’s paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter.

One of her teachers in Paris was the painter Fernand Léger who bluntly told Bourgeois that she should be a sculptor. Bourgeois does not seem to have paid much attention, but by 1947 strange, spindly, possibly figurative sculptures were appearing in his paintings. In the 1980s and early 1990s she would become world famous, representing the United States at the 1993 Venice Biennale, and best known for her sculptures of gigantic bronze arachnids titled “Maman” (“Mama”). Or as a visitor to the Met show explained to her partner: “You know, the big spiders.

Life in New York, a new city with a rising art scene, must have been a shock. And there were new responsibilities. In 1940, she and her husband adopted a 3-year-old French orphan named Alain, two months before she gave birth to Jean-Louis. In 15 months, their third son, Michel, arrived. Fortunately, she later said, her husband was a feminist. It is possible that all this newness propelled Bourgeois into a different place in his art, a place that abandoned the intricacies of the style and manipulation of paint and operated from basic emotional needs. The first painting in the exhibition, from around 1938, is “Runaway Girl”, which may reflect Bourgeois’ sadness at his abrupt departure from Paris. It shows her as a doll-like creature with long blonde hair, floating in a clear blue sky above two layers of mountain ranges – one in white paint, one sketched in charcoal. Beyond the sky is an ocean, drawn in charcoal and pencil, where a child swims; on the opposite bank is a white house that may be his family’s home outside of Paris, where they maintained a tapestry restoration workshop.

It’s a measure of the bustle of Bourgeois’ life that only a few paintings here date from the early 1940s. Even so, they powerfully reflect her belief that she has something to say and her own way of saying it. From around 1940, “Brotherhood” depicts six shadowy figures that seem to wander across a red expanse, gazing towards another house. Above hangs a multicolored magic cloud, a memory catcher whose flickering colors evoke the painted dome of a church. In “La maison de mes frères” (1940-42), the action takes place inside, in a faceted and transparent structure where the rooms and their occupants are visible.

Thereafter, only a few signs of the natural landscape remain. The sets are rather architectural or artificial spaces: rooms, stages, boxes, roofs or courtyards. It becomes clear that the paintings are mostly self-portraits and increasingly haunted by sculpture. In “Self-Portrait” circa 1947, Bourgeois gives himself a purplish wolf-man face, which seems an admission of guilt or shame, and a striking black and white striped dress whose central feature resembles one of the earliest sculptures in painted wood. whom Bourgeois called Personages.

Other paintings are rather pure expressions of maternal anguish and loneliness: ‘Red Night’ (1945-47) shows a woman and three little faces huddled in a floating bed on a swirling field of red. Opposite is an untitled painting in pink and light blue, a comet with an open mouth and tails of long hair rushes into the foreground above a factory with a towering chimney from which three small figures rise point to this terrifying creature. And some of Bourgeois’ paintings refer, intentionally or not, to horrors greater than herself – a woman desperate to be an artist.

“Regrettable Incident in the Louvre Palace” (1947) recalls an event – never divulged by the artist – which took place when she was a docent at the museum. But the austere structure of the building, which resembles a barracks, can quickly evoke the Holocaust or the Soviet Gulag. One of the brightest red paintings, an untitled work from 1948, depicts Bourgeois’ first sculpture studio: the roof of the building where his family lived on East 18th Street. Atop this gleaming red structure rises a veritable Fellini parade of luminous, floating forms, perhaps a glimpse of the three-dimensional promise made to the artist. And in “Roof Song” (1946-48), a comical image of the artist, smiling broadly, his hair resembling wings – stands on a marvel of red chimney, somewhat resembling an ancient stone-carved idol. . To the right is the source of his pride, black with touches of red: a narrow bourgeois totemic sculpture. This radiant and astonishing spectacle further disrupts the history of 1940s New York painting as a linear, predominantly male endeavor.

Louise Bourgeois: Paintings

Until August 7 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org.

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